Texas A&M Judo’s Isabella Garriga is thrilled to be competing at the World University Games June 27-July 7 in Chengdu, China.
In March, A&M hosted the National Collegiate Judo Association, or NCJA, championships. Isabella Garriga, black belt for the A&M judo team, has qualified for the World University Games. The world-class event hosts multiple sports for athletes aged 18-26. 2022 will be the 31st Summer World University Games.
Garriga said she was chosen to compete at the 2021 International Judo Federation World Junior Judo Championships in Italy last year, her first competition at a world stadium. The World University Games are larger and older than the World Juniors, and Garriga said they are more like the Olympics. She explained that athletes who are expected to compete in the Olympics go to this competition.
“The [World University] The Games are practically the College Olympics,” Garriga said.
Garriga said competing would help her improve and progress in the world of judo, and she has always dreamed of going there.
“Just knowing I can represent A&M and my country is an honor, and doing the sport I love the most is exciting,” Garriga said.
A&M judo brown belt Rylie Knight described Garriga as loyal, hardworking, energetic and fun.
“She’s there at least three times a week in addition to full-time classes and her major, in addition to traveling overseas while doing all of this,” Knight said.
Garriga is a strong competitor, has great technique, throws unexpected moves and tends to know where her opponent’s weight is, Knight said.
“Seeing his fight is pretty intense,” Knight said.
A&M judo brown belt Rodrigo Jimenez Moya described Garriga’s matches as exhilarating. It’s hard to look away when she’s fighting, he says.
“It’s like watching a movie – always thrilling,” Moya said.
Garriga is a supportive teammate and ready to help, said brown belt Ren Uyehara.
“She wants you to be the best judo you can be, and she will do whatever she can to help you achieve your goals,” Uyehara said.
At the nationals, Garriga had everyone on the edge of their seat, Uyehara said. She has a lot of throws — one after another — and if she runs out, she repeats them until she gets that big throw, he said.
“She never gives up, and it shows because it brought her to such a great competition where we have to watch from afar,” Uyehara said.
Garriga said she grew up in judo but took a break from high school to compete in swimming. She reentered judo when she came to A&M.
“When the competition started, I hadn’t competed in almost five years, and it was a national competition,” Garriga said. “I felt like I had to prove something because I was gone for so long.”
People remembered her as her father was traveling and still doing judo, Garriga said. She had to prove that she was still a great competitor and qualify for the Pan American Judo Championships. When she won the final match and moved up the national rankings, it was clear that she was officially back in judo.
“[It was] one of the most memorable competitions I’ve had,” said Garriga.
It’s tough being a student-athlete and traveling, Garriga said, but college was no different as she’s always been a student-athlete. Discipline and time management are key, she says.
“I’ve been stressed before, but it takes a lot of discipline,” Garriga said. “I do my best to manage.”
Since judo isn’t very popular in the United States, it’s difficult to travel, Garriga said. The NCJA has created a GoFundMe to help athletes with their expenses for the World University Games this year. The A&M team usually makes donations to fund their travels.
“I’m so blessed for them to donate because it means they believe in my future,” Garriga said.
Judo is a different sport from other martial arts, Garriga said. People often confuse judo with jujitsu and karate. Although judo shares some moves with jujitsu and karate, judo is not based on those arts, Garriga said.
“Judo means ‘the soft way,'” Garriga said. “It’s meant to be a technical way to use someone’s strengths against theirs, not just an awful ground tackle.”
At the NJCA Championships in March, the A&M men’s team took first place and the women’s team took second. Individually, Garriga won the award for female athlete of the year, an award voted on by various college coaches, Garriga said. She said it was an honor to receive the award, especially since it was her first full year as a varsity judo athlete.
“Just knowing those coaches saw me was an honor,” Garriga said.
Ahead are the USA National Senior Judo Championships at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Florida on May 21-22.
“The highest ranks are there,” Garriga said. “It’s the internationals.”